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Indoor signs for office buildings and other commercial structures are often produced by cutting out small letters or other shapes from acrylic sheets, and then affixing these cutting pieces to a sign board with adhesive. Unfortunately, the traditional mechanical methods for performing this cutting have some drawbacks. But now, a new generation C02 laser based machining systems delivers the desired cost and quality characteristics to make them an attractive alternative for many sign makers.
Abrasive water jet cutting is used by some acrylic sign makers to cut acrylic. These have the ability to cut sharp corners. Unfortunately, water jet cutting produces a frosted edge that requires additional processing for applications in which a polished finish is required. The other major negatives of water jets are their high capital cost, the ongoing expense of abrasives, and their relatively slow cutting speed.
Most acrylic cutting in the sign industry today is still performed with the mechanical router. Probably the most significant drawback of this method that router cutting produces a rough edge, which must then be subsequently buffed or flame polished in order to give it a smooth, transparent appearance. Also, a router cannot produce sharp corners and render intricate detail. On the other hand, the router is simple to implement, and requires very little operator knowledge.
In contrast, the CO2 laser is in many ways an ideal tool for acrylic cutting. Its infrared output is strongly absorbed by acrylics enabling it to rapidly cut by essentially melting and vaporizing away material. And CO2 laser cutting overcomes the main disadvantages of both mechanical and water jet processes. First, laser processing can deliver a variety of cut edge finishes, including a smooth, transparent edge which entirely eliminates any post processing. Also, laser cutting is substantially faster than other methods, especially when the time required for other post processing steps is included. Moreover, the focused laser beam produces a very narrow cut width (as small as 150 μm), thus allowing the production of very sharp edges and angles, and fine features. Plus CO2 laser based tools are flexible, and can perform anything from kiss cutting to through cutting, with very accurate control of cut depth and high repeatability, without the need to change tools.
Furthermore, laser cutting can be employed on materials over a wide range of thicknesses, from 1mm to 25 mm acrylic.
And lastly, the laser is a non-contact tool, there is no tool wear which results in very consistent results.